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Replacing Kendall Marshall is North Carolina’s toughest task

Jun 8, 2012, 9:30 AM EDT

Dexter Strickland, John Henson, Harrison Barnes

Everyone loves the kind of high-flying, aerial displays that earn a player a spot on Sportscenter’s Top 10. Anyone can recognize when a sharpshooter catches fire and rains threes like Fabolous rains ones.

But, for true hoop heads, there may not be anything prettier than watching a point guard make a perfectly timed pass to a wing streaking up the floor or somehow finding his center alone under the rim for a dunk. In other words, a gorgeous pass is just as impressive as a poster dunk.

And that is what made Kendall Marshall so entertaining to watch.

The 2012 Cousy Award winner averaged nearly 10 assists as a sophomore, many of which were of the spectacular variety. What may have been more important — and what may end up being Marshall’s lasting legacy — is how much better he made North Carolina when he was on the court. Should I remind you of what North Carolina looked like when Marshall was playing behind Larry Drew as a freshman? Or what they looked like after he broke his wrist in the NCAA tournament?

I have a point here, I swear.

The Tar Heels have a lot of talent to replace as Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes are all headed for the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft, but no player will be more important to the Heels than Marshall’s replacement at the point.

Roy Williams will have a couple of options. For starters, there is freshman Marcus Paige, who is described by ESPN as a “smart, tough point guard” whose “ability to make plays for his team and score make him special.” Sounds like a guy that could fit in well running UNC’s transition attack.

But he’s also a freshman, and with the only other true point guard on the UNC roster being Gardner-Webb transfer — yes, that Gardner-Webb — Luke Davis, that means that Dexter Strickland and his hopefully-healthy knee will be all that much more important.

“I expect to play the point guard way more than I did last year,” Strickland said Thursday. “I still see myself as a combo guard. I think I’ll always be a slashing guard, so I think there’s more room to grow, and there’s never a time when I stop learning or stop developing my game as a 2-guard or a point guard. I need to focus on whatever it takes to help my team win.”

Strickland is a veteran player who knows UNC’s system, has played the point guard role before and doubles as the Tar Heel’s best perimeter defender. With the Heels spending next season in somewhat of a rebuilding year, his health is going to be a key to their success.

Because there may not be a more important player in the country than North Carolina’s point guard.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.